Do we take pleasure in reading ancient Greek tragedy despite the unsettling content or because of it? Does a safe aesthetic distance protect us from tragic suffering, or does the proximity to death tap into something more primal? Aristotle proposed catharsis, an emotional cleansing—or, in later interpretations, a sense of equilibrium—as tragedy’s outcome, and Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, grand theorists of the forces of anti-mastery in human and nonhuman existence, surprisingly agreed. Notwithstanding this deferral to Aristotle, their theorizations of the death drive—together with Jacques Derrida’s notion of the archive as a place of conservation that inevitably fails—provide the groundwork for a radically new way of understanding tragic aesthetics.
With bold readings of thirteen plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, including the Oedipus cycle, the Oresteia,Medea, and Bacchae; an eclectic synthesis of Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Žižek, Deleuze, and other critical theorists; and an engagement with art, architecture, and film, Mario Telò’s Archive Feelings: A Theory of Greek Tragedy locates Greek tragedy’s aesthetic allure beyond catharsis in a vertiginous sense of giddy suspension, in a spiral of life and death that resists equilibrium, stabilization, and all forms of normativity. In so doing, Telò forges a new model of tragic aesthetics.
The laments of captive women found in extant Athenian tragedy constitute a fundamentally subversive aspect of Greek drama. In performances supported by and intended for the male citizens of Athens, the songs of the captive women at the Dionysia gave a voice to classes who otherwise would have been marginalized and silenced in Athenian society: women, foreigners, and the enslaved. The Captive Woman's Lament in Greek Tragedy addresses the possible meanings ancient audiences might have attached to these songs. Casey Dué challenges long-held assumptions about the opposition between Greeks and barbarians in Greek thought by suggesting that, in viewing the plight of the captive women, Athenian audiences extended pity to those least like themselves. Dué asserts that tragic playwrights often used the lament to create an empathetic link that blurred the line between Greek and barbarian. After a brief overview of the role of lamentation in both modern and classical traditions, Dué focuses on the dramatic portrayal of women captured in the Trojan War, tracing their portrayal through time from the Homeric epics to Euripides' Athenian stage. The author shows how these laments evolved in their significance with the growth of the Athenian Empire. She concludes that while the Athenian polis may have created a merciless empire outside the theater, inside the theater they found themselves confronted by the essential similarities between themselves and those they sought to conquer.
This handbook provides students and scholars with a highly readable yet detailed analysis of all surviving Greek tragedies and satyr plays. John Ferguson places each play in its historical, political, and social context—important for both Athenian and modern audiences—and he displays a keen, discriminating critical competence in dealing with the plays as literature. Ferguson is sensitive to the meter and sound of Greek tragedy, and, with remarkable success, he manages to involve even the Greekless reader in an actual encounter with the Greek as poetry. He examines language and metrics in relation to each tragedian’s dramatic purpose, thus elucidating the crucial dimension of technique that other handbooks, mostly the work of philologists, renounce in order to concentrate on structure and plot. The result is perceptive criticism in which the quality of Ferguson’s scholarship vouches for what he sees in the plays. The book is prefaced with a general introduction to ancient Greek theatrical production, and there is a brief biographical sketch of each tragedian. Footnotes are avoided: the object of this handbook is to introduce readers to the plays as dramatic poetry, not to detail who said what about them. There is an extensive bibliography for scholars and a glossary of Greek words to assist the student with the operative moral and stylistic terms of Greek tragedy.
Exchanges of women between men occur regularly in Greek tragedy—and almost always with catastrophic results. Instead of cementing bonds between men, such exchanges rend them. They allow women, who should be silent objects, to become monstrous subjects, while men often end up as lifeless corpses. But why do the tragedies always represent the transferal of women as disastrous?
Victoria Wohl offers an illuminating analysis of the exchange of women in Sophocles' Trachiniae, Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and Euripides' Alcestis. She shows how the attempts of women in these plays to become active subjects rather than passive objects of exchange inevitably fail. While these failures seem to validate male hegemony, the women's actions, however futile, blur the distinction between male subject and female object, calling into question the very nature of the tragic self. What the tragedies thus present, Wohl asserts, is not only an affirmation of Athens' reigning ideologies (including its gender hierarchy) but also the possibility of resistance to them and the imagination of alternatives.
Objects as Actors charts a new approach to Greek tragedy based on an obvious, yet often overlooked, fact: Greek tragedy was meant to be performed. As plays, the works were incomplete without physical items—theatrical props. In this book, Melissa Mueller ingeniously demonstrates the importance of objects in the staging and reception of Athenian tragedy.
As Mueller shows, props such as weapons, textiles, and even letters were often fully integrated into a play’s action. They could provoke surprising plot turns, elicit bold viewer reactions, and provide some of tragedy’s most thrilling moments. Whether the sword of Sophocles’s Ajax, the tapestry in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, or the tablet of Euripides’s Hippolytus, props demanded attention as a means of uniting—or disrupting—time, space, and genre.
Insightful and original, Objects as Actors offers a fresh perspective on the central tragic texts—and encourages us to rethink ancient theater as a whole.
Ancient Greek tragedy has been an inspiration to Western culture, but the way it was first performed has long remained in question. In The Theatricality of Greek Tragedy, Graham Ley provides an illuminating discussion of key issues relating to the use of the playing space and the nature of the chorus, offering a distinctive impression of the performance of Greek tragedy in the fifth century BCE.
Drawing on evidence from the surviving texts of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, Ley explains how scenes with actors were played in the open ground of the orchestra, often considered as exclusively the dancing place of the chorus. In reviewing what is known of the music and dance of Greek antiquity, Ley goes on to show that in the original productions the experience of the chorus—expressed in song and dance and in interaction with the characters—remained a vital characteristic in the performance of tragedy.
Combining detailed analysis with broader reflections about the nature of ancient Greek tragedy as an art form, this volume—supplemented with a series of illustrative drawings and diagrams—will be a necessary addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in literature, theater, or classical studies.